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A Policy Paper by the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network)

Cover photography: Mustafa Saeed and Hamza Sulub, Somaliland Marathon 21st February 2020 Design by: Marce Digital

Published November 2020

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented including copying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa www.sihanet.org

ŠSIHA Network 2020

Acknowledgments This paper would not have been possible without the contributions of the civil society and women’s rights activists in Somaliland. The knowledge they shared through a number of interviews and focus group sessions has driven the findings of this paper. Within the collective effort put forth to produce this paper, SIHA Network would like to thank Kinzi Hussein Qowden, who conducted the bulk of the primary research and data collection in Somaliland, Hala Al-Karib for her leadership and guidance in the development of the paper, Faith Sundby James for editing, and the entire SIHA team, especially Somaliland staff and partners for their crucial input on analysis and driving this narrative. Lastly, SIHA Network would like to thank Oxfam for providing financial support.

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Table of Contents Acknowledgments ........................................................................................ 3 Introduction................................................................................................. 5 Methods...........................................................................................................................5 Background.................................................................................................. 7 The Evolution of the Women’s Movement in Somaliland: Challenges and Grounds for Optimism ......................................................... 9 Current Gender Inequalities in Somaliland.................................................. 14 Poor Infrastructure..........................................................................................................15 Access to Justice .............................................................................................................16 Women’s Political Participation......................................................................................18 Violence Against Women and Girls.................................................................................19 Conclusion.................................................................................................... 22 Recommendations........................................................................................ 24 References.................................................................................................... 25

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Introduction This report is part of an effort by SIHA Network to provide an up-to-date analysis of the dynamics of the women’s movement in Somaliland, and the situation regarding gender relations in the semi-independent nation. This report is one of the outputs from the project entitled, ‘Women at the Forefront: Addressing the Intersectionality of Gender Relations during (Post) Conflict Times in the Horn of Africa,’ which has been implemented by SIHA Network, through support from Oxfam. The objective of the project is to promote grassroots, women-led activism that contributes to gender-inclusive peace and security processes throughout the Horn of Africa. The report presents an analytical snapshot of the dynamics of post-war women’s rights activism, including challenges facing the women’s movement in Somaliland. It provides examples of the ways gender inequality manifests in the country, and continues to hinder the ability of women to push for equality and to influence laws, policies, and the political agenda. It is important to note that this report was written at a time when Somaliland experienced multiple setbacks in terms of its progress toward gender equality, peace, and security. There were waves of optimism in 2018, after President Muse Bihi Abdi submitted to the House of Representatives an amendment to include a quota for women and minorities in parliament, along with the Sexual Offences Bill (SOB) – a significant bill that would address sexual violence, improve survivors’ access to justice, and fight impunity. However, two years of hopes were dashed in September of 2020, when the quota amendment was rejected and the Somaliland government replaced the SOB with a much more oppressive bill, called the ‘Rape, Fornication, and Other Related Offences Bill.’ The new bill, which appears to be strongly rooted in Salafi Islamist ideology, provides legal protection for misogynistic practices like forced marriage of underage girls. If passed, this bill holds the potential to catalyze an anti-democracy and anti-human/women rights trend that could influence the state of peace, security, and women’s rights in Somaliland for the upcoming era.1

Methods The findings and analyses of this report are based on a desk review of existing literature related to this topic, as well as SIHA Network’s work and engagement with women’s rights activists and their organizations in Somaliland for the past 20 years. The report further draws on focus group discussions and key informant interviews with a number of Somaliland women’s and human rights activists, and a primary research report conducted by Somaliland activist Kinzi Hussein Qowden on the history of the women’s movement and peace processes in Somaliland. The findings and analyses of this paper are based on the work and engagement of SIHA Network with women’s rights activists and organizations in Somaliland over the past 20 years, and two phases of primary research data collection in the form of individual interviews and focus groups.


Rape, Fornication and Other Related Offences Bill, 2020

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This institutional knowledge and primary data is supported by relevant, existing literature. A consultant in Hargeisa conducted the first of the two primary data collection phases, which consisted of 4 focus groups of 4-6 people each as well as 16 individual interviews. Participants in this first round of focus groups were selected based on their position and experience within key demographic groups: Somaliland Women’s Movement, Somaliland Women in Journalism/ Media, Somaliland Women Youth Activists/Academia, and Somaliland Women Activists/ Academia. Participants were also chosen based on the consultant’s networks, ability to reach potential participants, and their willingness to participate. The second round of primary data collection emerged as a reaction to the quickly evolving political situation within Somaliland. Due to SIHA Network’s connection to advocates for women’s rights within Somaliland, the organization became aware that the Sexual Offences Bill was to be drastically changed, constituting a large step backwards in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality. Largely due to this development, SIHA conducted two more focus group discussions in 2020 in order to account for these political dynamics in this paper. These final two focus group discussions were comprised of participants from the previous focus groups and individual interviews. Participants were invited based on both their position within the women’s movement in Somaliland, and their knowledge of the circumstances regarding the changes to the Bill and the political dynamics in Somaliland at the time. In total, there were 6 participants in these final two focus groups, three in each. The identities of all focus group and interview participants are confidential and thus, shall not appear in this paper.

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Background Somaliland is a country that emerged from civil war after the collapse of the central government of the Somali Republic in 1991. It is estimated that over half a million people from Somaliland lost their lives during the war against the authoritarian regime of Siad Barre, while millions more were internally displaced and fled across the borders of the country seeking safety as refugees, primarily in Ethiopia. On the 18th of May 1991, Somaliland gained its sovereignty from Somalia, and proclaimed itself an independent state: the Republic of Somaliland. Despite this history, Somaliland has yet to be recognized as a sovereign state by the international community or the United Nations. Somaliland’s development as a separate entity evolved around the time when Northern Somalia was a formal British Protectorate after the Second World War. During that time, the Somali region was divided between the Italian controlled southern/central part of Somalia, the British controlled northern part of the region, and the French controlled area, which was then called French Somaliland, and today is the independent nation of Djibouti. Somaliland gained independence on June 26, 1960. However, this independence lasted for only five days, at which time Somaliland was united with the former Italian trusteeship of Somalia to form the Republic of Somalia. In March of 1969 during the second round of national elections in the young Republic of Somalia, the democratically elected government was overthrown by a military coup. After seizing power by force, leader of the coup, Siad Barre, installed himself as president and dissolved the recently established democratic institutions of the Republic, including the multi-party system, the parliament, and the Supreme Court. Although the Barre regime eroded many political freedoms, it took some small steps in the direction of gender equality including improving women and girls’ literacy levels, and promoting women’s involvement in politics. Between 1969 and 1991 (when the Barre regime fell), women gained positions of power in the government, and held approximately 10 percent of parliamentary seats.2 In 1988, the region was plunged into a civil war as aggressions ignited between the ruling military regime and the Somali National Movement (SNM), which was primarily supported by the Isaaq clan. In just the first year of conflict, agricultural lands and water sources were destroyed by aerial bombings, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced across neighboring borders, and tens of thousands were killed.3 By the time the military regime was overthrown in 1991, the infrastructures of both Somalia and Somaliland had been devastated. In May of that year, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia, but this was undermined by another outbreak of fighting as old grievances within the ranks of the SNM resurfaced in the power vacuum that emerged after the fall of the Barre regime.4 In October of 1992, a conference was held in Sheikh, Somaliland where a small group of traditional leaders led the initiation of the peaceful transition

  Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, 2017   Ibid. 4  Gardner, Bushra, 2004 2 3

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process.5 Women were not allowed to take part in the negotiations organized by this male-only group, so they used grassroots campaigns to mobilize their communities for peace.6 By galvanizing the support of their communities, women in Somaliland played a major role in ending the clanbased conflicts of the early 1990s.7 After the Sheikh Conference, several more conferences were held between the Somali clans over the following years, until finally, in 1997, the clans were able to come to an agreement during the Hargeisa Peace and Reconciliation Conference.8 This agreement led to the peaceful establishment of a multiparty, parliamentary system. This system has generally prevailed over the last two decades, with the exception of the House of Elders. The House of Elders, also known as the Guurti, forms the 82-member, upper house of parliament in Somaliland. Members of the House of Elders are not elected, but rather selected through a clan-based nomination process, and despite term-limits, in practice, members hold their seats until they retire or die, at which point one of their male family members9 is chosen as their successor.10 In 2015 the House of Elders interfered by postponing the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2015 to 2017.11 This move provides a sobering commentary on the power of the clan system vis-à-vis the democratic intuitions of the Somaliland government.

5  Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, 2017 6  Jama, F, 2010; Interpeace, & Academy for Peace and Development, 2008 7  Inclusive Peace & Transition, 2017; Interpeace, & Academy for Peace and Development, 2008 8  Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, 2017 9  There has only been one case in which a female family member succeeded her deceased husband. 10   Interpeace, & Academy for Peace and Development, 2008; Tungaraza, 2010 11   Inclusive Peace & Transition Initiative, 2017

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The Evolution of the Women’s Movement in Somaliland: Challenges and Grounds for Optimism It is important to acknowledge that, the Somalia-Somaliland conflict of the 1980s/1990s continues to influence the politics, gender relations, and evolving women’s movement of the semi-independent territory of Somaliland as well as the gender relations and evolving women’s movement in Somaliland today.12 In the wake of this conflict, women across Somaliland communities have increasingly become primary breadwinners and heads of their households, and they have gained a stronger presence and role in public life.13 Despite these significant sociocultural shifts, the Somaliland government continues to ignore the importance of reforming policy and legal frameworks to recognize and treat women as equal citizens.14 All attempts so far for legal reform that could enable women’s equality have been ceased or obstructed by either the parliament or the House of Elders. This indicates a failure by the government of Somaliland to recognize that the human rights of women and girls are a crucial part of the peace and development processes of the country. The groups of women who initially formed NAGAAD Network, which was founded to advocate for women’s empowerment and to work toward achieving an egalitarian society, constituted the beginnings of the Somaliland women’s movement and also played an active role in peace building, reconciliation, and reconstruction after the civil conflict of the early 1990s.15 Over the last two decades, women’s groups and women-led civil society organizations have grown and increasingly participated in Somaliland national development activities, including their work to disempower the warlords, increase community awareness, reduce interclan fighting, and promote women’s participation in the public spheres of politics, employment, and social interaction.16 Despite these contributions, the structures and institutions of power and decision-making in Somaliland have remained deeply patriarchal.17 Women make up half of the nation, yet their oppression continues. This negatively impacts the development of the entire nation, causing slow growth or stagnation in education, health, and security sectors as well as on human rights indicators. “People try to colonize each other’s pasts, and men try to colonize women’s versions of conflicts”18 Although the struggle for an independent and peaceful Somaliland was a joint struggle, where

  Tungaraza, 2010   Gardner & Bushra, 2004; Tungaraza, 2010 14   Gardner & Bushra, 2004; Tungaraza, 2010 15   Tungaraza, 2010 16   Jama, F, 2010 17   Jama, F, 2010 18   Hale, 2012 12 13

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women played a significant and equal role in the fight for independence, the memory of women’s participation in the struggle is being reshaped and adjusted to serve the interests of patriarchal hierarchies in the country.19 On a 2018 visit to Somaliland’s newly opened national Museum, the Saryan Museum, one could hardly find anything speaking to women’s participation in the struggle for the independence of Somaliland. On the other hand, one cannot deny the critical role women played in establishing stability after 1991.20 Dr. Edna Adan is one of the women who was particularly involved in the peace processes. She was the first woman from Somaliland to advocate for ending all forms of FGM/C and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2003-2006 and later served as a Minister of Social Welfare. In addition to Dr. Edna Adan, there were many other female civil society activists involved in the Somaliland peace processes who significantly contributed through their activism on women’s rights, peace, and development in Somaliland.21 As of the mid-1990s, a number of women’s organizations and networks were emerging in Somaliland, acting as platforms for women in Somaliland to amplify their agendas.22 One such organization is NAGAAD Network, a network of women’s organizations, which is still in operation today. The organizations within NAGAAD Network laid down the roots of the women’s movement. Their primary focus was centered on promoting women’s rights to political participation and education, changing the harmful gender-based attitudes of the community, enabling women’s economic empowerment, and increasing women’s influence over decisionmaking at all levels.23 The post-conflict democratization period in Somaliland created opportunities for women, but in the intersecting oppressions of gender, class, and clan -based discriminations have prevented all but a small, elite class of educated women from having access to the opening spaces of political activism. This is a significant impediment to building an inclusive and influential women’s movement in Somaliland. However, there are many other limitations that obstruct the women’s movement in Somaliland. The Somaliland government has always treated the women’s movement as an extension of its power and has always expected support from the NGOs working in the area of women’s rights in Somaliland. The influence that male elites in Somaliland exert over the country’s political parties has hampered the consolidation of women’s rights groups and NGOs formed during the post-war period into an actual movement. Moreover, the Somaliland government has created a falsely close relationship with the traditional women’s movement in the country to strategically use this relationship to pacify the resistance against the government’s neglect of the women’s movement agenda. Throughout the years since Somaliland’s independence, subsequent governments have continued to reject fundamental changes toward the improvement of women’s rights and gender relations in the country, by rejecting the quota system, refusing to amend the Criminal Code to include the Sexual Offences Bill, and failing to address many of the deeply rooted grievances of women and girls through laws and policies.

  Ingiriis & Hoehne, 2013; Jama, F, 2010 Jama, F, 2010 21   Jama, F, 2010; Tungaraza, 2010 22   Ibid. 23   Tungaraza, 2010 19


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As a product of Somaliland’s poor social welfare infrastructure, combined with the rising tide of militant Salafi ideology, and the country’s proximity to Somalia, Al-Shabaab has emerged as another factor that threatens the goals of the women’s moment, and the realization of gender equality in Somaliland. Al-Shabaab bases its political ideology on challenging and fighting the ‘west’ through violent tactics, which it justifies with distorted interpretations of 7th century Islamic Shari’a. Al-Shabaab relies heavily on an ideological narrative, which strictly controls gender relations and cements male guardianship over women. The constantly looming shadow of Al-Shabaab exacerbates the already high prevalence of gender discrimination in Somaliland’s conservative, clan-based society; a society which shows signs of becoming increasingly disposed toward a militant Islamist ideology. These conservative and militant religious forces significantly limit the influence of the voices of women activists and their ability to lead assertive campaigns for women’s rights. These conservative forces also exert considerable influence over politics, in general, in Somaliland. Yet, in its current semi-independent position, the Somaliland government is not directly exposed to international pressure or human rights mechanisms that might otherwise provide a counterbalance to oppressive ideologies. This has largely helped the government to avoid accountability for monitoring human rights violations. Thus, the international community’s refusal to accept Somaliland’s claim to nationhood has hindered the progress for gender equality and the women’s movement. Despite these formidable obstacles, the women of Somaliland are asserting their own agenda. In recent years, many Somaliland women and men have expressed dissatisfaction with their government’s superficial democracy and poor commitment to human and women’s rights. In 2018, Naima Qorane, a 27 year-old female poet, was detained for reciting poems about the unity of the Somali people. She was found guilty of bringing the nation or the state into contempt, and sentenced to three years in prison, though she was released in May of 2018.24 This situation highlights the dangers of voicing opinions of which the Somaliland government does not approve. Naima forms part of a wave of women and female and male youth who are organizing to defy the status quo and trying their best to find platforms within civil society to express their interests and agendas outside the scope of both traditional NGO modalities and clan structures. There are changes occurring in Somaliland within the women’s movement that go beyond the traditional structure of NGOs. These changes are assuming new formats for organization and advocacy that actually work, and fit the nature and background of the groups involved. These formulas, although not new, draw inspiration from different modalities of grassroots activism. Professional associations (such as midwife or nurse associations), small business and entrepreneurial groups, and women street vendor cooperatives are good examples, of this kind of effective, contextspecific, grassroots activism. The number of women in Somaliland participating in public life is also growing. More and more women are becoming engaged in art, cultural activities, business, and entrepreneurship. The Hargeisa Cultural Centre, which provides a space for both Somaliland males and females to


Burke, 2018

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exist safely and to have access to knowledge, creative arts, dance, music, cultural activities, and debates, has contributed significantly to giving women a voice in a broader and mixed platform. The New York Times article, ‘I Feel Strong and Free,’25 highlights women’s refusal to be excluded from the world of sport in Somaliland. The article notes that women’s representation in the 10-kilometre marathon organized annually in Hargeisa, has been steadily increasing, with 80 female participants this past year. The Midwifery Leadership and Development in Somaliland Association (SLNMA) represents an emerging modality for the women’s movement through the alliance of jobs dominated by women, such as midwifery and nursing. The University of Hargeisa is also providing a space for women to organize and learn, particularly within the University of Hargeisa legal clinic, which enables female lawyers to access and engage with the legal system. The Women Journalist Association (WIJA) is another attempt by women to organize beyond the bounds of the conventional NGO format. These efforts resist the ‘NGOization’26 of the women’s rights struggle in Somaliland. The NGOization of women’s rights activism in Somaliland has contributed to factionalism and polarization within women’s movements, limiting their capacities for activism and political influence. This results in large part from a prevalent perception within the NGO sector that identifies women outside the sector – particularly poor and minority women – as beneficiaries of NGO interventions, but not as partners in the same struggle. It is also important to acknowledge that women in Somaliland are extremely diverse and as such, their agendas and needs are equally diverse. The fear of politicization that characterizes the NGOization of women’s movements will eventually do more harm than good as it will impose a point of stagnation upon the women’s agenda and will stifle exploration of innovative and unconventional methodologies of struggle and advocacy. During focus group discussions, women activists in Somaliland recognized that working with NGOs, comes with significant disadvantages and that in Somaliland, women’s activism should be developed and supported from the grassroots. Several of the focus group participants added that the women’s movement in Somaliland should build alliances that are inclusive of the full diversity of women in Somaliland, including the younger generations. Between 2017 and 2020, SIHA Network, in its efforts to reach out to and enable the organizing of urban poor women in the informal sector in the Horn of Africa, developed and implemented a project working with women street vendors in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The objective of the project was to connect these women to the wider women’s rights movements in Hargeisa, and to enable women street vendors to become active agents in changing their situation. By the end of the project, SIHA Network had supported 150 women street vendors in Hargeisa to form three large cooperatives. The women received leadership and human rights training and learned how to utilize the cooperative model to increase the safety and financial security of their community of women street vendors. The women involved in this project were primarily urban, poor, and minority women as well as migrant and internally displaced women who depend on street and

  Dahir, 2020 Al-Karib, 2018



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market vending for their livelihoods.27 This SIHA Network engagement also supported these women in the informal sector to organize into networks and groups to advocate effectively for women’s access to basic rights, like education, legal rights, and sexual and reproductive health rights. In Wajale, a major hub city in Somaliland, a large group of women street vendors exercised their collective power within the women cooperatives to demand fairer treatment. As in other parts of the country, women vendors in Wajale are regularly exposed to physical or verbal harassment, assault, and confiscation and destruction of their wares by local government officials and police forces.28 In January 2019, the women vendors in Wajale called out to the President of Somaliland, demanding justice for the crimes that had been committed against them by the city authorities. They organized a vocal television and radio campaign, which brought in support from across the country.29 Overall, despite the entrenched gender-discriminatory aspects of Somaliland society, shifts in the actual lived realties of women and men in Somaliland are laying the groundwork for progress toward equality.30 Women working is fast becoming the norm in Somaliland, as their contribution is fundamental to the survival of the household. This shift in labor norms has coincided with women’s increasing recognition of their social, economic, and political value and rights.31 Women of different backgrounds within Somaliland society are striving to occupy public spaces, and focusing on controlling their own lives rather than waiting for someone else to change for them. While the process of transformation will not be easy, the progress being made at the grassroots is evidence of the capacity of women to push for change in their own societies, exceeding the assumptions of NGOs who have long occupied a gatekeeping position vis-à-vis the women’s movement.

SIHA Network, 2018b   Ibid. 29  SIHA Network, 2019 30  Jama, F, 2010; Tungaraza, 2010 31  Gardner & Bushra, 2004 27  28

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Current Gender Inequalities in Somaliland Article 8 of the Constitution of the Republic of Somaliland states that ‘all citizens of Somaliland shall enjoy equal rights and obligations before the law, and shall not be accorded precedence on grounds of colour, clan, birth, language, gender, property, status, opinion, etcetera.’ However, Somaliland has defined its citizenship primarily through membership within state-recognized Somali clans. The Voice of Somaliland Minority Women Organization (VOSOMWO) reports that minority clans in Somaliland, namely the Goboye, Tumals and Yibirs, in addition to other smaller minority groups, are systematically faced with obstacles that prevent their access to employment and resources. According to VOSOMWO, minority women, in particular, are more susceptible to systemic gender-based violence due to the weak infrastructure and protection mechanisms available within the clan system. Since it was established by the government in 2010, the Somaliland National Human Rights Commission has not managed to play a significant role in addressing or reforming discriminatory laws or policies. Additionally, there is a prevalent, negative government attitude towards human rights defenders.32 This negative attitude has been cultivated over many years by traditional actors in the country who have an anti-gender equality agenda. These traditional leaders have painted all human rights defenders as connected to international humanitarian groups who, they claim, have hidden agendas of cultural imperialism through the imposition of so-called ‘western values.’33 Without denying the checkered history of strategic humanitarian interventions by Global North nations,34 it is both wrong and harmful to the Somaliland women’s movement to claim that every actor working to improve the lives and livelihoods of women and minority clans has malicious intentions. Indeed, the idea that the struggle for women’s rights in Somaliland is in any way a western import is a highly patronizing claim, which can only come from a place of ignorance. In focus group discussions, Somaliland women’s rights activists and lawyers cited this dynamic as a powerful tool used to undercut their efforts. The women explained that when religious and traditional leaders accuse women’s rights groups of following ‘western values’ and going against Islam, political will and community support will be jeopardized because no one wants to contradict these leaders as they have so much power and influence in Somaliland society. One participant went so far as to say that “anything that the religious leaders feel is un-Islamic become not permissible in Somaliland.” These factors, combined with many norms, practices, and beliefs within traditional culture in Somaliland, contribute largely to the prevalence of normalized, gender-based inequalities in Somaliland society.35

  Tungaraza, 2010   Ibid. 34   Stokke, 2009 35   Jama, F, 2010; Jama, G, 2019; Tungaraza, 2010 32 33

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Poor Infrastructure Education The educational infrastructure of Somaliland was already crumbling before conflict broke out anew in 1991. In the 1980s, the Barre regime responded to increasing opposition by diverting more and more state funds to the military, and consequently, away from social services like education.36 By 1990, after being severely underfunded for a decade, schools across Somaliland lacked sufficient textbooks, teachers were underpaid, and school buildings were starting to fall apart. As a result of the conflict in 1991 and 1992, “about 90% of school buildings were either completely or partially destroyed,” and formal education across the country simply did not take place for two years.37 One of the lasting results of the damage sustained by the Somaliland educational system in the 1990s is that much of the current system – particularly in urban Somaliland – is privatized.38 While the gap between girls’ and boys’ attendance rates is smaller in private schools in Somaliland, the privatization of schools simultaneously deepens cycles of poverty because only children from urban, wealthy families can afford private options. This dynamic reinforces the tokenistic system that can be seen in current Somaliland politics, whereby a small, elite group of women are given access, but because there are so few of them, their capacity to make change is compromised. Far from being fully recovered, the education system still lacks funding and resources. Many children in Somaliland cannot attend school, although this is more often the reality for children from poor, rural, and IDP communities, and for girls across the board. As of 2011, only 31% of students in the Somaliland secondary school system were female.39 Even with some progress being made, by 2015, UNICEF found that 72% of survey respondents reported that they would send a son to school before a daughter if forced by economic strain to choose.40 The gender disparities in the classrooms of Somaliland are not limited to the student population. In its 2016 Education Sector Analysis, the Somaliland Ministry of Education and Higher Studies reported that less than 5% of school teachers in Somaliland were women.41 In addition to the many obstacles against women and girls’ participation in education, one Somaliland women’s rights activist explained that the curriculum itself tends to feature gender stereotypes and tropes that reinforce gender biases in education, and in other spheres of public and private life as well.

Health Services Like the education system, the healthcare infrastructure and institutions were severely impacted by the instability of the early 1990s. As of 2012, the Head of the Somaliland UNICEF field office characterized Somaliland as having “one of the worst maternal mortality ratios in the world,”

Bennaars, Seif, & Mwangi, 1996 Ibid. 38   How schools are kept afloat in Somaliland, 2019 39  Republic of Somaliland Ministry of Education and Higher Studies, 2016 40  Ibid. 41  Ibid. 36  37 

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and noted that just over one out of ten Somali children will not live to see their fifth birthday.42 A 2014 joint report by the WHO Regional office (WHO-EMRO), WHO Country office, University of Aberdeen, and Data and Research Solutions (DARS), reported that a maternal death was occurring in Somaliland approximately every six hours.43 The Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) has identified, “lack of access to primary healthcare, inadequate quality of service provision, poor hygiene and sanitation, and low supply levels,” as some of the key obstacles to improving health standards in Somaliland.44 With the majority of the population living in isolated, rural areas of the country, many pregnant women are unable to access healthcare.45 Community Health Workers (CHWs) could provide a lifeline to these communities. However, like the education system, Somaliland’s healthcare system is primarily reliant on private individuals, companies and NGOs, which again, means that most women will not be able to afford the healthcare they need.46

Access to Justice One of the key institutions in Somaliland that perpetuates the oppression of women is the customary law system known as “Xeer.” “The unwritten but powerful Somali customary law, Xeer, is made by clan leaders or elders, selected for their assumed wisdom, courage, experience and knowledge to arbitrate disputes and deliver verdicts. The elders, Guurti, assigned to hear and decide cases, are exclusively men. Their decisions are legally binding and set precedents for similar subsequent cases. Every decision is therefore a law, passed down from generation to generation as oral tradition.”47 According to Somaliland human rights lawyer, Guleid Ahmed Jama, “Xeer remains the main source of law in Somaliland, particularly in rural and remote areas where government presence is scarce.”48 The Xeer system is one of the three legal systems, which theoretically operate parallel to each other in Somaliland. The other two systems are statutory law and Shari’a law. Article 5(4) of the Somaliland Constitution dictates that customary and statutory law cannot contradict Shari’a law, however in practice, this is not always the case, and there is no indication as to which school of thought regarding Islamic jurisprudence Article 5(4) refers.49 In reality, Somaliland’s parallel legal system allows for those in the country with vested power to escape accountability by picking and choosing the legal system that is likely to give them the most favorable outcome often

Mortality rates among world’s highest in Somaliland, 2012 Somaliland Women of Reproductive Age Mortality Survey 2014 44  Tropical Health and Education Trust 45  Tungaraza, 2010 46   Ibid. 47   Jama, G, 2019 48   Ibid. 49   SIHA Network, 2015 42  43 

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at the cost of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, such as women and minority clan members. The parallel system also allows the government to have some progressive laws on the books but look the other way when the application of Xeer or Shari’a law contradicts those laws within the statutory legal code. For example, according to an interpretation that is commonly used by Shari’a law courts in Somaliland, proof of Zina – unlawful sexual intercourse – will typically require four male witnesses to the criminal sex act at issue.50 In this way, the statutory law on rape under Article 398 of the Penal Code is more progressive and survivor-centered than Shari’a, as judges and prosecutors are able to utilize the testimony of the survivor, as well as medical and other forms of evidence, making the possibility of indictment more likely. Because it is unwritten, and because all powers of interpretation and decision-making are held by a small group of traditional leaders, Xeer is particularly well engineered to maintain the status quo of male privilege over women. Indeed, as Xeer is not written, women have nothing to reference if they wish to request an appeal of a customary law court decision. Shari’a law is also subject to manipulation. Interpretations of Islamic law that deliberately twist and distort sacred texts to keep women oppressed, are increasingly taking hold in Somaliland as part of an international trend toward a militant, Salafi Islam which is fueled by a political rather than a wholly religious agenda. While many in Somaliland believe this increasingly prevalent kind of militant, Salafi Islam is an accurate representation of their faith,51 Shari’a has become the most cosmopolitan and inclusive of the three legal systems in Somaliland.52 Unlike clan structures, which are rigid and exclusive, Islam knows no boundaries, making it an attractive second option for the local population. This positive bias towards Shari’a and Islam is by no means problematic. Rather, the issue arises from the gradual slide toward conservative and extreme interpretations of Islam in Somaliland society.53 This not only carries with it the dangerous possibility of rising religious militancy, as seen in Somalia, but also the possibility of reversing the already limited progress toward women’s human rights through more militant interpretations of the Quran and what it says with respect to women and girls. Family law is a decisive area of law for women’s rights and gender equality as it typically governs marriage and divorce, including property rights, inheritance, and child custody – all of which have significant, gendered impacts.54 In Somaliland, statutory law has largely left matters within the field of family law to be resolved through Shari’a law, which in practice, is rather a set of customs and traditional practices claimed to be based on Shari’a law, drawing on traditions and suggestions from various sources of Islamic jurisprudence from the 7th and 12th centuries.55 This Shari’a legal framework has not been formally reviewed by any Somaliland justice department. Indeed, such review is impossible for the moment, as the framework is unwritten. Another grievance regarding the customary and Shari’a law courts is that the process of family law

Ibid. Healy & Bradbury, 2010; Jama, G, 2019; SIHA Network, 2015; SIHA Network, 2018b 52   Jama, G, 2019; SIHA Network, 2015 53  Healy & Bradbury, 2010; Jama, G, 2019; SIHA Network, 2015; SIHA Network, 2018b 54  Stilt, Waheedi, & Griffin, 2018 55   Jama, G, 2019 50  51 

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cases are often prolonged – it is not unusual for a case on child support to last between one and three years.56 In a context marked by the rise of militant Islam, many religious leaders and conservatives vehemently oppose the inclusion of women in positions of power within the justice system, which could upset the status quo of exclusively male access to the highest positions of the judicial and law enforcement branches of government.57 As of 2016, the Judiciary Commission in Somaliland still had not appointed a single female judge.58 The lack of female representation in the Somaliland justice system combined with the dearth of gender-responsive protocols, policies, and operating procedures present further obstacles to women’s access to justice, particularly when they have been subjected to sexual or gender-based violence (SGBV). Survivors often suffer severe stigmatization, abuse, and discrimination after family or community members learn about the sexual violence they have experienced.59 Thus, procedures such as the requirement that all visitors must inform the (typically male) guards at police stations of the nature of their visit before being allowed to enter, serve as powerful impediments to justice for many.60

Women’s Political Participation In the political sphere, women in Somaliland have continuously fought for their participation in parliament and in top-level political decision-making positions, since Somaliland’s first elections. In 2018, the President of Somaliland submitted a 30% quota for the participation of women and minority groups in both houses of parliament. This was one of several amendments to the Electoral and Voter Registration Law. The House did not deliberate on the quota until the 27th of September, at which point the House rejected the quota, ostensibly on grounds that the quota would violate the Somaliland Constitutional provision that all citizens are equal before the law.61 Today, out of the 82 seats in the House of Representatives and an additional 82 seats in the House of Elders, only one seat (in the House of Representatives) is occupied by a woman.62 In the nation’s history, a woman has only occupied a seat in the House of Elders once. Fatuma Jama Illeye assumed office to replace her late husband and resigned not long thereafter to allow her son to take the seat. Had it been implemented, the quota system would have enabled women’s access to parliament in greater numbers. Many Somaliland activists blame the fact that politics in the country are predominantly influenced by clans, which maintain a leadership system that leaves significant power consolidated within the hands of a small, male-only group.

Ibid. Ibid. 58  Horizon Institute, 2016 59   Jama, G, 2019 60  Ibid. 61   Somali Dispatch, 2020 62   Somaliland Standard, 2020 56  57 

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Violence Against Women and Girls Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) According to 2011 data, over 96% of women in Somaliland between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C.63 In early 2018, a fatwa (religious ban) was issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Government of Somaliland stating as follows: “It’s forbidden to perform any circumcision that is contrary to the religion which involves cutting and sewing up, like the pharaoh circumcision. Any girl who suffers from pharaoh circumcision will be eligible for compensation depending on the extent of the wound, and the violation caused. Anyone proven to be performing the practice will receive punishment depending on the extent of the violation.” The content of this Fatwa exhibits a lack of commitment to addressing the root causes of FGM/C, and perpetuates the misconception that FGM/C is a matter of the Islamic faith. In reality, FGM/C is not defined as a religious obligation in any of the sacred Islamic texts and is practiced across many countries and cultures of different religious affiliations.64 However, the rise of political Islam, which relies heavily on the repression of women, has been more than happy to artificially include FGM/C in their long list of strategies to regulate women’s bodies, public presence, and social interaction.65 The Fatwa is further damaging because, by only establishing the Fatwa against certain types of FGM/C (type 2 and type 3), the Fatwa implicitly legitimizes type 1 FGM/C, which was and continues to be the most commonly practiced form of FGM/C in Somaliland. The fact that this legitimizing discourse has been issued from the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ position of moral authority, may prove to be a powerful push factor in favor of increasing or maintaining the practice of type 1 FGM/C in Somaliland.66 To date, the Somaliland government has not taken any further steps to clarify its position regarding either the fatwa or the FGM/C Zero tolerance campaign.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) Although the overall state policy framework purports to be supportive of women’s rights, the reality is that hardly any progress is being made toward addressing gender-based discrimination in Somaliland. The government has shown a particular reluctance to address the high prevalence of SGBV in the country, which is specifically exemplified by the perpetrator impunity within the traditional elders’ justice system in handling rape cases. The Somaliland government is still very consistent in maintaining the power of the traditional clan elders when it comes to

  UNICEF, 2019 SIHA Network, 2018a 65   Healy & Bradbury, 2010; Jama, G, 2019; SIHA Network, 2015; SIHA Network, 2018b 66  SIHA Network, 2018a 63


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personal status laws and any other legal or judicial areas that are connected to gender relations and the circumstances of women in society. In 2013, NAGAAD Network found that 60% of sexual violence cases were being sent to customary law courts, which are typically bastions of traditional and conservative gender norms, and consequently, unsympathetic toward attempts by women to assert their rights.67 Shari’a law courts – in the context of growing support for Salafi Islam in Somaliland – often prove to be hostile settings for survivors as well, because they must always be wary when bringing a case of sexual violence or rape to the court that the court may instead place the survivor on trial for adultery.68 Ultimately, the “culture of impunity”69 for sexual violence in Somaliland can be assigned to a variety of different influences and key emerging factors. The enforcement of statutory law is too weak to deal with the challenges of growing levels of indiscriminate sexual offences, and as long as law enforcement is unable, unequipped or unwilling to manage the sexual violence, SGBV will continue to persist in Somaliland.70 In the 2015 report, ‘The Other War: Gang Rape in Somaliland,’ SIHA identified the prevalence of clan interference and a corresponding lack of juridical independence as two of the primary reasons connected to the early release of convicted perpetrators of sexual violence.71 In 2018, the Somaliland government took significant steps by drafting and announcing the possibility of adopting the Sexual Offences Bill (SOB). However, to date there has been no progress toward actually integrating the bill into the Somaliland criminal code. Rather, as predicted in Guleid Ahmed Jama’s Legal Briefing, published April 2019, the Sexual Offences Bill has undergone significant changes to become more conservative and discriminatory toward women. Likely due to the heavy pressure exerted by the House of Elders, which seems to have peaked in April 2019, a new bill was drafted to replace the SOB of 2018. Women’s rights activists in the country at the time, report that they attempted to be included in the drafting process, but were informed that the President had given an exclusive mandate over the process to an established group of religious leaders. An unofficial copy of the text of this newly titled ‘Rape, Fornication, and Other Related Offences’ Bill, was released in September 2019. Focus group participants who work in the field of women’s rights in Somaliland have strongly condemned the newly proposed bill as a wholesale betrayal of the progressive steps taken in the original SOB. Among some of the more disturbing changes, the new bill would allow guardians to force minors and ‘mentally ill women’ into marriage without obtaining the consent of the concerned minor or mentally ill woman. As the bill upholds the antiquated and misogynistic notion that rape cannot occur within a marriage, anyone forced into marriage, would also lose any legal grounds to accuse their spouse of rape. The new bill also includes vague legal definitions, which would severely compromise the court’s obligation to safeguard the rights of the survivor, and to hold perpetrators accountable. Article 22 of the proposed bill stipulates that an accused party should not be

  NAGAAD Network, 2013 SIHA Network, 2015 69   Ibid. 70   Ibid. 71   Ibid. 67


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arrested if that person “is a good person with a good reputation within the community.”72 This highly subjective exception to the procedure of taking an accused party into police custody, would exacerbate the already rampant issue of perpetrator impunity. Article 34 of the bill dictates that the only evidence admissible in court for the purposes of reaching a verdict on cases concerning ‘fornication/zina’ (defined in the bill as “any sexual intercourse between two unmarried people with their consent”) or rape are either “four witnesses who fulfill the conditions of a witness as stated by Sharia” or “a reliable/genuine confession” from the defendant.73 The article goes on to stipulate that other forms of evidence including medical reports, and evidence produced in the course of police investigations will be admissible for determining any penalties to be meted out in the case of a guilty verdict. It is a severe impediment for survivor justice when these forms of evidence are not be considered by the court when deliberating on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. If signed into law, this newly proposed bill would lay the groundwork for incorporating a militant Islamist ideology into the Somaliland statutory legal framework. Such a legal framework would compromise the already weak mechanisms for protecting women’s rights in Somaliland, and would facilitate increased criminalization of women on the basis of genderdiscriminatory norms.


  Rape, Fornication and Other Related Offences Bill, 2020 Ibid.


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Conclusion In order for effective, inclusive, and influential women’s movements to flourish in Somaliland, there is a need for widespread recognition of activism that extends beyond the traditional modalities of large women’s rights organizations within the NGO sector.74 Women in Somaliland have the right to explore different formats of organizing for change, that suit them and fit into their lived realties, and this right must be encouraged. Somaliland has a strong foundation for a vibrant and influential women’s movement. The number of women entrepreneurs in Somaliland – small business-owners, traders, vendors, and so on – is a testament to the strong foundation for the women’s movement. They will challenge, not only the notions of discrimination against women’s involvement in labor and business ownership, but also any form of discrimination, which hinders women’s access to power and political decisionmaking institutions. The struggle of young Somali women to access education and to have a voice is another strong testament to the growing movements of young women who have an agenda and are willing to fight for better conditions. Finally, the involvement of women in Somaliland in art and cultural activities through the Hargeisa Cultural Centre proves the capacity women from Somaliland have to occupy public spaces and to organize and mobilize beyond the limited models offered by NGOs and the clan system. It is important to enable conversation between women and youth (female and male) in Somaliland, and to encourage their efforts to challenge the militant Islamic discourse and ideology that is contributing significantly to the slow progress toward addressing women’s fundamental rights in Somaliland. Moreover, there is a need for negotiation and engagement with other groups across Somaliland communities, including religious and established leaders, as their cooperation would significantly reduce the barriers facing the movements for gender equality and justice in Somaliland. Challenging the discriminatory practices and rhetoric being espoused by militant Islam does not require a rejection of the religion as a whole. Rather, the women’s movement can directly engage with religious texts and rhetoric to demonstrate that women’s rights and gender equality are compatible with Islam. Indeed, there are examples of feminist Muslim movements around the world with which women in Somaliland can connect, and from which they can learn.75 There is an opportunity to benefit from the experiences of women’s movements in other predominantly Muslim countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt and leverage the lessons that can be learned from how these women activists have managed to challenge the impact of religious militancy on women’s rights from within Islam.76 The Somaliland women’s movements can further benefit from learning about how women’s movements in other Muslim-majority countries have successfully advocated for the ratification and domestication of and regional women rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination

Al-Karib, 2018 Baig, 2016; Charrad & Stephan, 2020; Kirmani, 2009 76   Al-Sharmani, 2014; Eddouada, 2008; Kirmani, 2009 74  75 

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of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). Somaliland women activists could initiate conversation with allies within the Somaliland government in order to connect with state actors in predominantly Muslim countries, and to share learning and experiences with Islamic religious law reform for the recognition and protection of women’s human rights. SIHA Network’s work through the Women in Islam journal and advocacy to challenge discriminatory rhetoric that hides behind false religious justification, and Musawah’s work advocating for Family law reform, could serve as useful support for the women’s movement in their efforts to shift discourse, mind-sets, practices, and policies. SIHA’s work supporting women street vendors in Somaliland to form their own cooperatives and provide capacity building training for advocacy and business skills has was particularly successful in enabling urban poor women in Hargeisa to formulate their demands, access political platforms, and advocate for policy change, such as reducing or eliminating the street vending taxes from city council, providing public washrooms, establishing an ID-card system, and ensuring their access to health insurance and services. The cooperative model has supported women’s access to resources and economic development as well as their organization into coalitions and groups that represent their economic needs and political aspirations. Similar programs could also be implemented in IDP settlements.

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Recommendations •

Support and invest in women’s and youth associations by providing spaces for their social and political engagement, including their participation in recreational activities, sport, and other cultural activities.

The Government of Somaliland should ensure that all ministries and departments cooperate in working toward gender equality and justice because the peace, stability, and development of Somaliland are intimately connected with removing gender-based discrimination and thereby unburdening half the population.

Engage more directly with female youth, and women from minority communities, by including them in social and political conversations as well as agenda-setting and movement-building efforts.

Provide the space for younger women to engage in constructive discourse with the more established women’s movement and feminist agenda and to develop their own strategies, agenda, and demands, while also cultivating solidarity and partnership over shared aims.

Build networks and chains of support through women’s professional associations and enable their access to advocacy platforms, that are connected to the wider women’s movements and which will encourage collaboration, coordination, and solidarity.

Reduce tolerance for gender-inequitable norms and violence against women by engaging men: • Men’s groups should be used as a way to promote non-violent and gender-equitable norms among boys and men, and reduce community tolerance for SGBV. This is based on the idea that inequitable gender attitudes and behavior by men (and women) can be unlearned and that any initiative seeking to prevent SGBV should not solely focus on “survivors,” but must also address the patriarchal and violent attitudes and behaviors of men. This strategy relies upon engaging men and boys in open and supportive dialogues focusing on the advantages of women’s rights, and the consequences of sexual violence in familiar and comfortable locations.

Support increased involvement of women and girls at all levels of education, by raising awareness regarding how women and girls’ lives are improved by participation in formal education, and by implementing programs to assist women to access teaching positions at all levels of education.

Encourage young women to pursue law enforcement and judicial system careers, and support these aspirations with quota policies for women’s employment in law enforcement and the judiciary as well as other male-dominated government departments.

Women’s movements should encourage the politicization of women’s rights groups and their agendas along with the political capacity of grassroots women to participate in local government as voters, influential actors, and candidates. This will contribute to establishing a bottom-up trajectory for the women’s movement, which aids in the sustainability and inclusiveness of the movement.

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Horizon Institute. (2016). Women and the Judiciary in Somaliland. https://www. thehorizoninstitute.org/publications/ How schools are kept afloat in Somaliland (2019). https://theconversation.com/how-schoolsare-kept-afloat-in-somaliland-121570 Ingiriis, M., & Hoehne, M. (2013). The impact of civil war and state collapse on the roles of Somali women: a blessing in disguise. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 7(2), 314–333. Interpeace, & Academy for Peace and Development. (2006). A vote for Peace: How Somaliland Successfully Hosted its First Parliamentary Elections in 35 years (p. 72). Interpeace & Academy for Peace and Development. https://www.africaportal.org/publications/vote-peace-howsomaliland-successfully-hosted-its-first-parliamentary-elections-35-years/ Interpeace, & Academy for Peace and Development. (2008). Peace in Somaliland: An Indigenous Approach to State-Building (p. 111). Interpeace & Academy for Peace and Development. https:// apd-somaliland.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Peace-in-Somaliland-an-indigenousApproach-to-State-building-.pdf Jama, F. (2010). Somali women and peacebuilding. Accord, 21, 62–65. https://www.c-r.org/ accord/somalia/somali-women-and-peacebuilding Jama, Guleid A. (2019). Under the Laws of Men. Women in Islam. Issue 4. 28-30 Kaplan, S. (2008). The remarkable story of Somaliland. Journal of Democracy, 19(3), 143–157. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.0.0009 Mortality rates among world’s highest in Somaliland. (2012). The New Humanitarian. https:// reliefweb.int/ NAGAAD Network. (2013). Access to Justice by Women-SGBV Victims. Rape, Fornication and Other Related Offences Bill. (Law No. 78/2020). Republic of Somaliland, The House of Representatives. Unofficial English Translation by Horizon Institute, 3 September 2020. Republic of Somaliland Ministry of Education and Higher Studies. (2016). Education Sector Analysis (ESA 2012-2016). https://www.globalpartnership.org/sites/default/files/document/ file/Somaliland-education-sector-analysis-2012-2016.pdf SIHA Network. (2018a). Press Statement: Somaliland Religious Affairs Fatwa on Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting – NOT TO BE MISLED. https://sihanet.org/press-statement-somalilandreligious-affairs-fatwa-on-female-genital-mutilation-cutting-not-to-be-misled/#_ftn1 SIHA Network. (2019). Press Statement: Street Vendors in Wajale Somaliland. https://sihanet. org/press-statement-street-vendors-in-wajale-somaliland/ SIHA Network. (2015). The Other War: Gang Rape in Somaliland. https://issuu.com/halayassin/ docs/the_other_war_-_gangrape_in_somalialand_siha_netwo Reflection on Gender Equality Agenda in Somaliland

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SIHA Network. (2018b). Women do not belong under the acacia tree. https://issuu.com/ halayassin/docs/women_do_not_belong_under_the_acacia_tree Somali Dispatch. (2020). Somaliland Parliament approved an electoral law without women’s quota. https://www.somalidispatch.com/latest-news/somaliland-parliament-approved-anelectoral-law-without-womens-quota/ Somaliland Standard. (2020). A Democracy without Women Representation in Somaliland. https://somalilandstandard.com/a-democracy-without-women-representation-in-somaliland/ Somaliland Women of Reproductive Age Mortality Survey 2014. WHO Regional office (WHOEMRO), WHO Country office, University of Aberdeen, and Data and Research Solutions (DARS). http://www.emro.who.int/images/stories/somalia/somaliland_wra_mortality_survey_final_ report-1_dec.pdf Stilt, K., Waheedi, S., & Griffin, S. G. (2018). The Ambitions of Muslim Family Law Reform. Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 41(2), 301–342. Stokke, O. (2009). The UN and Development: From Aid to Cooperation, UN: Intellectual History Project Series. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET). Somalia and Somaliland. https://www.thet.org/ our-work/country-programmes/somalia-and-somaliland/ Tungaraza, M. B. (2010). Women’s Human Rights in Somaliland. https://www.progressio.org. uk/sites/default/files/Womens-human-rights-in-Somaliland.pdf UNICEF. (2019). Somalia: Statistical Profile on Female Genital Mutilation. file:///C:/Users/ Administrator/Downloads/FGM_SOM.pdf

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Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa


Profile for SIHA Network

A Reflection on the Gender Equality Agenda in Somaliland